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Palace boss Hodgson still focused on survival

Crystal Palace are up to 12th place after beating Burnley 1-0, but Premier League survival is still Roy Hodgson's only concern.

Burnley Fan View: Reinforcements required for Europa push

Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley

Soccer Football - Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley - Selhurst Park, London, Britain - January 13, 2018 Burnley manager Sean Dyche speaks with Georges-Kevin N'Koudou before he sends him on as a substitute Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley

Soccer Football - Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley - Selhurst Park, London, Britain - January 13, 2018 Burnley manager Sean Dyche applauds the fans at the end of the match REUTERS/Toby Melville

Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley

Soccer Football - Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley - Selhurst Park, London, Britain - January 13, 2018 Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley

Soccer Football - Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley - Selhurst Park, London, Britain - January 13, 2018 Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson before the match Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley

Soccer Football - Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley - Selhurst Park, London, Britain - January 13, 2018 Burnley manager Sean Dyche shakes hands with Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson before the match Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Crystal Palace 1 Burnley 0: Roy Hodgson revival continues as Palace pull away from relegation zone

Such is the transformation wrought by Roy Hodgson, it is difficult to envisage how Crystal Palace could not beg, steal or borrow a goal, let alone a Premier League match point, during the troubled early stages of the campaign. These days supporters arrive at Selhurst Park anticipating committed, confident and adventurous football and relegation, seemingly inevitable back in the autumn, is a fast diminishing concern. The latest success was built on Bakary Sako's well-taken first-half goal, some sparkling moves before the break and a more resilient performance in the second half, when Burnley stirred and began to pose a threat. Palace have now suffered just one defeat in their last 12 league matches and while there will still be some moments of anxiety, mainly in the closing stages as another priceless win was so tantalisingly close, this was another performance to warm the hearts of the South London faithful. Hodgson said: "It is a massive three points for us. In the first half we created enough chances to have made things more comfortable for ourselves in the second half. We knew more questions would be asked of our back four and goalkeeper in the second half but I'm delighted that we were able to withstand that test. "Now at least we can look at the league table for a week or two without having shivers running down our spines." Ashley Barnes challenges for the ball with Timothy Fosu-Mensah Credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images Burnley, who arrived winless in six matches, had no reason to panic, and manager Sean Dyche deployed the same formation with the same mindset that has served the Lancashire side so well this term. But they struggled to quell Palace's positivity and had Ashley Barnes' shot, tipped away by Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, as their only truly threatening moment of a subdued first half. They improved significantly after the break and looked the more likely to score in the final half-hour, though Palace's rearguard stood firm for their second successive home clean sheet. Dyche said: "Close but no cigar. They were better than us in the first half but in the second half we were much better. I was pleased with our mentality and I thought we deserved to scratch a draw out of it." Palace took 21 minutes to open up their visitors and the match could have been over as a contest by the half-hour mark. The goal was an individual creation by the hard-working Sako, who collected the ball wide on the left and ran at a retreating Burnley defence before firing low under goalkeeper Nick Pope. The Londoners could have doubled their lead within seconds. Wilfried Zaha evaded Pope to drill across the face of goal with the onrushing James McArthur, tangling with defender Ben Mee, just unable to turn in. There was another big reprieve for Burnley when Christian Benteke rose at a corner to power his header a foot over the Burnley crossbar. The big forward was also unfortunate when he cleverly diverted Patrick van Aanholt's drive, only to see the ball fly straight into Pope's gloves. Bakary Sako celebrates Crystal Palace's winner Credit: Ashley Crowden/CameraSport Sako could have supplied an even more spectacular goal just before the interval, volleying Timothy Fosu-Mensah's cross inches over the crossbar. The same combination were threatening Burnley soon after the interval, though this time Sako could not muster the necessary power in his header. Burnley, however, were far from finished, and there were warning signs for the home side as both Barnes and Sam Vokes were not far off target with headers. With the match into its final third, Dyche turned to his newly-acquired Tottenham loanee Georges-Kevin Nkoudou to reinvigorate his attack. Palace lost some of their fluidity in the second half as Burnley strove to find a way back. With eight minutes remaining, they would have been level but for Hennessey's brave block at the feet of Barnes. Tempers frayed between Zaha and Charlie Taylor after the Burnley full-back had pushed the Palace flier to the ground near the halfway line. But Palace kept their cool, Benteke almost added a rare goal in a breakaway attack, and Hodgson's men took another big step away from the relegation danger area.  

Crystal Palace 1 Burnley 0: Roy Hodgson revival continues as Palace pull away from relegation zone

Such is the transformation wrought by Roy Hodgson, it is difficult to envisage how Crystal Palace could not beg, steal or borrow a goal, let alone a Premier League match point, during the troubled early stages of the campaign. These days supporters arrive at Selhurst Park anticipating committed, confident and adventurous football and relegation, seemingly inevitable back in the autumn, is a fast diminishing concern. The latest success was built on Bakary Sako's well-taken first-half goal, some sparkling moves before the break and a more resilient performance in the second half, when Burnley stirred and began to pose a threat. Palace have now suffered just one defeat in their last 12 league matches and while there will still be some moments of anxiety, mainly in the closing stages as another priceless win was so tantalisingly close, this was another performance to warm the hearts of the South London faithful. Hodgson said: "It is a massive three points for us. In the first half we created enough chances to have made things more comfortable for ourselves in the second half. We knew more questions would be asked of our back four and goalkeeper in the second half but I'm delighted that we were able to withstand that test. "Now at least we can look at the league table for a week or two without having shivers running down our spines." Ashley Barnes challenges for the ball with Timothy Fosu-Mensah Credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images Burnley, who arrived winless in six matches, had no reason to panic, and manager Sean Dyche deployed the same formation with the same mindset that has served the Lancashire side so well this term. But they struggled to quell Palace's positivity and had Ashley Barnes' shot, tipped away by Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, as their only truly threatening moment of a subdued first half. They improved significantly after the break and looked the more likely to score in the final half-hour, though Palace's rearguard stood firm for their second successive home clean sheet. Dyche said: "Close but no cigar. They were better than us in the first half but in the second half we were much better. I was pleased with our mentality and I thought we deserved to scratch a draw out of it." Palace took 21 minutes to open up their visitors and the match could have been over as a contest by the half-hour mark. The goal was an individual creation by the hard-working Sako, who collected the ball wide on the left and ran at a retreating Burnley defence before firing low under goalkeeper Nick Pope. The Londoners could have doubled their lead within seconds. Wilfried Zaha evaded Pope to drill across the face of goal with the onrushing James McArthur, tangling with defender Ben Mee, just unable to turn in. There was another big reprieve for Burnley when Christian Benteke rose at a corner to power his header a foot over the Burnley crossbar. The big forward was also unfortunate when he cleverly diverted Patrick van Aanholt's drive, only to see the ball fly straight into Pope's gloves. Bakary Sako celebrates Crystal Palace's winner Credit: Ashley Crowden/CameraSport Sako could have supplied an even more spectacular goal just before the interval, volleying Timothy Fosu-Mensah's cross inches over the crossbar. The same combination were threatening Burnley soon after the interval, though this time Sako could not muster the necessary power in his header. Burnley, however, were far from finished, and there were warning signs for the home side as both Barnes and Sam Vokes were not far off target with headers. With the match into its final third, Dyche turned to his newly-acquired Tottenham loanee Georges-Kevin Nkoudou to reinvigorate his attack. Palace lost some of their fluidity in the second half as Burnley strove to find a way back. With eight minutes remaining, they would have been level but for Hennessey's brave block at the feet of Barnes. Tempers frayed between Zaha and Charlie Taylor after the Burnley full-back had pushed the Palace flier to the ground near the halfway line. But Palace kept their cool, Benteke almost added a rare goal in a breakaway attack, and Hodgson's men took another big step away from the relegation danger area.  

Crystal Palace 1 Burnley 0: Roy Hodgson revival continues as Palace pull away from relegation zone

Such is the transformation wrought by Roy Hodgson, it is difficult to envisage how Crystal Palace could not beg, steal or borrow a goal, let alone a Premier League match point, during the troubled early stages of the campaign. These days supporters arrive at Selhurst Park anticipating committed, confident and adventurous football and relegation, seemingly inevitable back in the autumn, is a fast diminishing concern. The latest success was built on Bakary Sako's well-taken first-half goal, some sparkling moves before the break and a more resilient performance in the second half, when Burnley stirred and began to pose a threat. Palace have now suffered just one defeat in their last 12 league matches and while there will still be some moments of anxiety, mainly in the closing stages as another priceless win was so tantalisingly close, this was another performance to warm the hearts of the South London faithful. Hodgson said: "It is a massive three points for us. In the first half we created enough chances to have made things more comfortable for ourselves in the second half. We knew more questions would be asked of our back four and goalkeeper in the second half but I'm delighted that we were able to withstand that test. "Now at least we can look at the league table for a week or two without having shivers running down our spines." Ashley Barnes challenges for the ball with Timothy Fosu-Mensah Credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images Burnley, who arrived winless in six matches, had no reason to panic, and manager Sean Dyche deployed the same formation with the same mindset that has served the Lancashire side so well this term. But they struggled to quell Palace's positivity and had Ashley Barnes' shot, tipped away by Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, as their only truly threatening moment of a subdued first half. They improved significantly after the break and looked the more likely to score in the final half-hour, though Palace's rearguard stood firm for their second successive home clean sheet. Dyche said: "Close but no cigar. They were better than us in the first half but in the second half we were much better. I was pleased with our mentality and I thought we deserved to scratch a draw out of it." Palace took 21 minutes to open up their visitors and the match could have been over as a contest by the half-hour mark. The goal was an individual creation by the hard-working Sako, who collected the ball wide on the left and ran at a retreating Burnley defence before firing low under goalkeeper Nick Pope. The Londoners could have doubled their lead within seconds. Wilfried Zaha evaded Pope to drill across the face of goal with the onrushing James McArthur, tangling with defender Ben Mee, just unable to turn in. There was another big reprieve for Burnley when Christian Benteke rose at a corner to power his header a foot over the Burnley crossbar. The big forward was also unfortunate when he cleverly diverted Patrick van Aanholt's drive, only to see the ball fly straight into Pope's gloves. Bakary Sako celebrates Crystal Palace's winner Credit: Ashley Crowden/CameraSport Sako could have supplied an even more spectacular goal just before the interval, volleying Timothy Fosu-Mensah's cross inches over the crossbar. The same combination were threatening Burnley soon after the interval, though this time Sako could not muster the necessary power in his header. Burnley, however, were far from finished, and there were warning signs for the home side as both Barnes and Sam Vokes were not far off target with headers. With the match into its final third, Dyche turned to his newly-acquired Tottenham loanee Georges-Kevin Nkoudou to reinvigorate his attack. Palace lost some of their fluidity in the second half as Burnley strove to find a way back. With eight minutes remaining, they would have been level but for Hennessey's brave block at the feet of Barnes. Tempers frayed between Zaha and Charlie Taylor after the Burnley full-back had pushed the Palace flier to the ground near the halfway line. But Palace kept their cool, Benteke almost added a rare goal in a breakaway attack, and Hodgson's men took another big step away from the relegation danger area.  

Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley

Soccer Football - Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley - Selhurst Park, London, Britain - January 13, 2018 Crystal Palace's Bakary Sako reacts after a missed chance Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley

Soccer Football - Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley - Selhurst Park, London, Britain - January 13, 2018 Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Bakary Sako leads Crystal Palace to victory over Burnley

The 29-year-old scored the only goal as Roy Hodgson's men stunned the Clarets at Selhurst Park in Saturday’s Premier League encounter

Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley

Soccer Football - Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley - Selhurst Park, London, Britain - January 13, 2018 Crystal Palace's Bakary Sako reacts after a missed chance Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley

Soccer Football - Premier League - Crystal Palace vs Burnley - Selhurst Park, London, Britain - January 13, 2018 Crystal Palace's Bakary Sako scores their first goal Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Crystal Palace revival continues as Bakary Sako strikes against Burnley

Crystal Palace revival continues as Bakary Sako strikes against Burnley

Crystal Palace revival continues as Bakary Sako strikes against Burnley

Crystal Palace revival continues as Bakary Sako strikes against Burnley

Bakary Sako runs towards the fans to celebrate after giving Crystal Palace the lead against Burnley at Selhurst Park.

Crystal Palace revival continues as Bakary Sako strikes against Burnley

Crystal Palace revival continues as Bakary Sako strikes against Burnley

Bakary Sako runs towards the fans to celebrate after giving Crystal Palace the lead against Burnley at Selhurst Park.

Crystal Palace 1 Burnley 0: Roy Hodgson revival continues as Palace pull away from relegation zone

Crystal Palace 1 Burnley 0: Roy Hodgson revival continues as Palace pull away from relegation zone

Crystal Palace 1 Burnley 0: Roy Hodgson revival continues as Palace pull away from relegation zone

Crystal Palace 1 Burnley 0: Sako extends Eagles revival

Crystal Palace are five points clear of the relegation zone after Bakary Sako scored decisively to down Burnley at Selhurst Park.

Crystal Palace hold on to beat Burnley and continue their revival under Roy Hodgson

Crystal Palace hold on to beat Burnley and continue their revival under Roy Hodgson

Crystal Palace hold on to beat Burnley and continue their revival under Roy Hodgson

Crystal Palace 1 Burnley 0: Red-hot Bakary Sako on target as Eagles seal back-to-back wins

Crystal Palace vs Burnley LIVE latest score: Premier League 2017-18 goal updates, TV and how to follow online, team news and line-ups at Selhurst Park

Crystal Palace vs Burnley LIVE latest score: Premier League 2017-18 goal updates, TV and how to follow online, team news and line-ups at Selhurst Park

Crystal Palace vs Burnley LIVE latest score: Premier League 2017-18 goal updates, TV and how to follow online, team news and line-ups at Selhurst Park

Crystal Palace’s Jeffrey Schlupp set for surgery

The left-back will not only miss Saturday’s league encounter against Burnley, he is also set for months on the sidelines

Pep Guardiola admits Anfield trip is biggest test of Man City's 'Invincibles' credentials

Pep Guardiola has challenged Manchester City to deliver an emphatic message of what can be achieved this season by going to Anfield and beating Liverpool in a fixture that appears to be their most difficult Premier League match left until the end of the season. City have lost on their last four visits, despite finishing each of those campaigns ahead of Liverpool, and have a wretched record of five wins in 49 games since 1945 and just one in the last 20 years, back in May 2003. The avoidance of defeat there will only encourage those who believe Guardiola’s side can remain unbeaten and become the new ‘Invincibles’. The City manager is certainly not underplaying the fixture’s importance, saying it could set his team up for the remainder of a campaign in which they still have a chance of of winning an unprecedented ‘quadruple’ of trophies across domestic and European competitions. “It’s so important a game to realise again, to see again if we are able to do things in this season,” Guardiola said. “Especially on important stages, on Champions League stages, and it’s a good test for us to see ourselves and not just Liverpool – how good they are – but ourselves, if we are able, when we arrive in Basel [for the Champions League last-16 tie next month] or the FA Cup or the biggest stages of the knock-out games how is our behaviour. We did it at Stamford Bridge, we did it at Old Trafford.” Those away wins – especially the victory over the champions, Chelsea, back in September have been the benchmarks for City. If they depart Liverpool unscathed on Sunday they will have only 15 more fixtures to negotiate unbeaten to emulate the achievements of Arsenal in 2003-04 and Preston North End in the very first season of the Football League in 1888-89. Georginio Wijnaldum scores Liverpool's winner at Anfield during last season's visit of Manchester City Credit: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images) After Anfield, City have to go to Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur – plus a tricky trip to Burnley – while also hosting Manchester United and Chelsea but it feels like Liverpool is their most difficult, challenging date. "If you want to achieve something good or win titles you have to not just win, you have to win on these kind of stages,” Guardiola acknowledged. “This season at Stamford Bridge we were able to do that but still we have to go to Anfield, to Emirates [against Arsenal] and against Tottenham. We still have tough teams away, there is still a lot of things to do … for us it's a real test, going to Anfield, one of the most prestigious stadiums and teams in the world so we'll try to put on a good performance, it’s a big game for us.” The genius of Pep Guardiola: Eight things he has done to make Man City so frighteningly good Guardiola, who was named manager of the month for an unprecedented fourth time in a row on Friday, is well aware of the records. He is well aware of all the records and with City 15 points clear at the top it is not just winning but creating new standards that is becoming the motivation to drive on the players. It includes ending any notion of an Anfield ‘hoodoo’. "I don't believe in these kind of things, but of course the last time City won was 15 years ago, so it means a lot in terms of how difficult and complicated it is to play there,” Guardiola, who lost 1-0 last season, said. “But records are always there to be broken.” He is also well aware that Liverpool “are in their best moment”, a 17-game unbeaten run, 13 in the league, and that manager Jürgen Klopp is probably most akin to him in his desire to win in a certain way. “He's a guy who tries to play forward, no fear, courage and they play at Anfield. We have to defend, but I'm not expecting a team like he’s going to wait to see what happens,” Guardiola said. “I’m pretty sure, and he did it last season, he’s going to try to make his own game and I think it will be a good game. Our target is to do better than last season, a better performance. And big courage. In these kind of games, how is your mentality? OK, tomorrow, the day after, the sun rises again so life goes on but, OK, we will try and do our game and play with personality.” It is a big test. After five games of this season bookmakers were offering 40-1 for City, who have now not lost in 30 games domestically across all competitions and across two seasons, to remain unbeaten in the Premier League. Now those odds have been cut to 10-3. If they do not lose at Anfield they will shorten even further.

Pep Guardiola admits Anfield trip is biggest test of Man City's 'Invincibles' credentials

Pep Guardiola has challenged Manchester City to deliver an emphatic message of what can be achieved this season by going to Anfield and beating Liverpool in a fixture that appears to be their most difficult Premier League match left until the end of the season. City have lost on their last four visits, despite finishing each of those campaigns ahead of Liverpool, and have a wretched record of five wins in 49 games since 1945 and just one in the last 20 years, back in May 2003. The avoidance of defeat there will only encourage those who believe Guardiola’s side can remain unbeaten and become the new ‘Invincibles’. The City manager is certainly not underplaying the fixture’s importance, saying it could set his team up for the remainder of a campaign in which they still have a chance of of winning an unprecedented ‘quadruple’ of trophies across domestic and European competitions. “It’s so important a game to realise again, to see again if we are able to do things in this season,” Guardiola said. “Especially on important stages, on Champions League stages, and it’s a good test for us to see ourselves and not just Liverpool – how good they are – but ourselves, if we are able, when we arrive in Basel [for the Champions League last-16 tie next month] or the FA Cup or the biggest stages of the knock-out games how is our behaviour. We did it at Stamford Bridge, we did it at Old Trafford.” Those away wins – especially the victory over the champions, Chelsea, back in September have been the benchmarks for City. If they depart Liverpool unscathed on Sunday they will have only 15 more fixtures to negotiate unbeaten to emulate the achievements of Arsenal in 2003-04 and Preston North End in the very first season of the Football League in 1888-89. Georginio Wijnaldum scores Liverpool's winner at Anfield during last season's visit of Manchester City Credit: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images) After Anfield, City have to go to Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur – plus a tricky trip to Burnley – while also hosting Manchester United and Chelsea but it feels like Liverpool is their most difficult, challenging date. "If you want to achieve something good or win titles you have to not just win, you have to win on these kind of stages,” Guardiola acknowledged. “This season at Stamford Bridge we were able to do that but still we have to go to Anfield, to Emirates [against Arsenal] and against Tottenham. We still have tough teams away, there is still a lot of things to do … for us it's a real test, going to Anfield, one of the most prestigious stadiums and teams in the world so we'll try to put on a good performance, it’s a big game for us.” The genius of Pep Guardiola: Eight things he has done to make Man City so frighteningly good Guardiola, who was named manager of the month for an unprecedented fourth time in a row on Friday, is well aware of the records. He is well aware of all the records and with City 15 points clear at the top it is not just winning but creating new standards that is becoming the motivation to drive on the players. It includes ending any notion of an Anfield ‘hoodoo’. "I don't believe in these kind of things, but of course the last time City won was 15 years ago, so it means a lot in terms of how difficult and complicated it is to play there,” Guardiola, who lost 1-0 last season, said. “But records are always there to be broken.” He is also well aware that Liverpool “are in their best moment”, a 17-game unbeaten run, 13 in the league, and that manager Jürgen Klopp is probably most akin to him in his desire to win in a certain way. “He's a guy who tries to play forward, no fear, courage and they play at Anfield. We have to defend, but I'm not expecting a team like he’s going to wait to see what happens,” Guardiola said. “I’m pretty sure, and he did it last season, he’s going to try to make his own game and I think it will be a good game. Our target is to do better than last season, a better performance. And big courage. In these kind of games, how is your mentality? OK, tomorrow, the day after, the sun rises again so life goes on but, OK, we will try and do our game and play with personality.” It is a big test. After five games of this season bookmakers were offering 40-1 for City, who have now not lost in 30 games domestically across all competitions and across two seasons, to remain unbeaten in the Premier League. Now those odds have been cut to 10-3. If they do not lose at Anfield they will shorten even further.

Crystal Palace vs Burnley: Premier League prediction, TV, live streaming, start time, team news, line-ups, head to head, betting tips and odds

Spontaneity and excitement are being eroded in increasingly Big Six-dominated Premier League 

When Leicester City won the Premier League two years ago it felt like a watershed moment. In a division where the gulf between the haves and have-nots had never been greater, the 5,000/1 outsiders Leicester had pulled off arguably the greatest ever upset in English football history. As a nation rejoiced, the Premier League’s big boys reacted as if to say: "never again". The two Manchester clubs and Chelsea each brought in one of the world’s best managers (on a combined salary of £21.5m), while they all, plus Liverpool, Arsenal and to a lesser extent the already upwardly mobile Tottenham set about spending huge sums on rebuilding their squad. Leicester also made some expensive signings after winning the Premier League, but their success had focused the minds of the biggest clubs, who wanted to get back on their perch. It was as if Leicester had pulled off a major heist, and the so-called ‘Big Six’ now had to tighten its security. The result over the last 18 months has been a more authoritarian, dominant cartel than ever before. And the effect has been numbing. For a division that trades off its frequency of upsets and the idea that ‘anyone can beat anyone’, the Premier League has been depressingly top heavy for the last season and a half. Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2016 led to a backlash from the 'Big Six' Credit: AFP The figures are stark. In 2014-15, the season before Leicester’s unexpected triumph, Big Six sides picked up 2.13 points per game in matches against non Big Six teams and had a winning percentage of 64.9 from those games. These numbers plummeted in Leicester’s title winning campaign of 2015-16 to 1.82 points per game and a win percentage of 52.4. Over the last two seasons however the figures have rebounded with a vengeance. Last season, Big Six sides picked up 2.36 points per game against the non Big Six group, with a winning percentage of 72.6. Those figures are at 2.38 and 72.4 so far this campaign. The matches have been so one-sided that the average goal difference of a Big Six v non Big Six game this season has been 1.67 in favour of the former. For the three season between 2013 and 2016 that figure was way down at an average of 0.98.  In practical terms, it has made for a boring, predictable league where the less fancied teams often play as if their main aim is to avoid a hiding. Newcastle's depressingly ultra-defensive tactics against Manchester City where they began the match by deliberately by hoofing the ball out of play was an entirely predictable nadir.  "It is becoming an embarrassment – the Premier League, it’s a joke," a dismayed Jamie Carragher said on Sky Sports after the tedium at St James' Park was mercifully brought to a close.  How the elite pulled away Matches are no longer even close Arsene Wenger meanwhile last month lamented how defensive non Big Six clubs have become. “First of all the crowds accepts it,” he said. “They start with the idea that if it’s a 0-0 it’s a good result. Every tackle they make the crowd goes ‘wahhhh’. You would say as long as you don’t score the first goal you’re in a position where you have to take a gamble. It is a modern problem.” But really can anyone blame those sides when the odds are so far stacked against them?  The Premier League has of course been dispiritingly oligopolistic before. Between the 2003-04 and 2008-09 seasons, only once did any of Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester fail to finish in the top four (and in that anomalous season Liverpool qualified for the Champions League in any case by winning the competition). But at least then there were clubs like Everton, Aston Villa and Tottenham who went close to breaking up the group and could regularly bloody the noses of the 'Big Four'.  Fast forward to the present day and 7th-placed Burnley, who are enjoying a wonderful season, still find themselves five points behind struggling Arsenal and far closer in points terms to bottom club Swansea than leaders Manchester City. Over the festive period, the Big Six sides drew a few games, but matches like Everton 0 Manchester United 2 and Swansea 0 Tottenham 2 were depressingly samey and routine. Stoke City meanwhile - understandably given their crazy schedule - played  a reserve team in their 5-0 shellacking at Chelsea to keep players fresh for a theoretically winnable game against Newcastle.  What's worrying is that the gulf only looks like widening - especially if the Big Six eventually get their way and convince the other teams in the league to accept a merit-based payment system that would see overseas money distributed according to where clubs finish in the table.  Hype has always sustained the Premier League, but never has it felt further from it's self-proclaimed status as the best in the world. 

Spontaneity and excitement are being eroded in increasingly Big Six-dominated Premier League 

When Leicester City won the Premier League two years ago it felt like a watershed moment. In a division where the gulf between the haves and have-nots had never been greater, the 5,000/1 outsiders Leicester had pulled off arguably the greatest ever upset in English football history. As a nation rejoiced, the Premier League’s big boys reacted as if to say: "never again". The two Manchester clubs and Chelsea each brought in one of the world’s best managers (on a combined salary of £21.5m), while they all, plus Liverpool, Arsenal and to a lesser extent the already upwardly mobile Tottenham set about spending huge sums on rebuilding their squad. Leicester also made some expensive signings after winning the Premier League, but their success had focused the minds of the biggest clubs, who wanted to get back on their perch. It was as if Leicester had pulled off a major heist, and the so-called ‘Big Six’ now had to tighten its security. The result over the last 18 months has been a more authoritarian, dominant cartel than ever before. And the effect has been numbing. For a division that trades off its frequency of upsets and the idea that ‘anyone can beat anyone’, the Premier League has been depressingly top heavy for the last season and a half. Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2016 led to a backlash from the 'Big Six' Credit: AFP The figures are stark. In 2014-15, the season before Leicester’s unexpected triumph, Big Six sides picked up 2.13 points per game in matches against non Big Six teams and had a winning percentage of 64.9 from those games. These numbers plummeted in Leicester’s title winning campaign of 2015-16 to 1.82 points per game and a win percentage of 52.4. Over the last two seasons however the figures have rebounded with a vengeance. Last season, Big Six sides picked up 2.36 points per game against the non Big Six group, with a winning percentage of 72.6. Those figures are at 2.38 and 72.4 so far this campaign. The matches have been so one-sided that the average goal difference of a Big Six v non Big Six game this season has been 1.67 in favour of the former. For the three season between 2013 and 2016 that figure was way down at an average of 0.98.  In practical terms, it has made for a boring, predictable league where the less fancied teams often play as if their main aim is to avoid a hiding. Newcastle's depressingly ultra-defensive tactics against Manchester City where they began the match by deliberately by hoofing the ball out of play was an entirely predictable nadir.  "It is becoming an embarrassment – the Premier League, it’s a joke," a dismayed Jamie Carragher said on Sky Sports after the tedium at St James' Park was mercifully brought to a close.  How the elite pulled away Matches are no longer even close Arsene Wenger meanwhile last month lamented how defensive non Big Six clubs have become. “First of all the crowds accepts it,” he said. “They start with the idea that if it’s a 0-0 it’s a good result. Every tackle they make the crowd goes ‘wahhhh’. You would say as long as you don’t score the first goal you’re in a position where you have to take a gamble. It is a modern problem.” But really can anyone blame those sides when the odds are so far stacked against them?  The Premier League has of course been dispiritingly oligopolistic before. Between the 2003-04 and 2008-09 seasons, only once did any of Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester fail to finish in the top four (and in that anomalous season Liverpool qualified for the Champions League in any case by winning the competition). But at least then there were clubs like Everton, Aston Villa and Tottenham who went close to breaking up the group and could regularly bloody the noses of the 'Big Four'.  Fast forward to the present day and 7th-placed Burnley, who are enjoying a wonderful season, still find themselves five points behind struggling Arsenal and far closer in points terms to bottom club Swansea than leaders Manchester City. Over the festive period, the Big Six sides drew a few games, but matches like Everton 0 Manchester United 2 and Swansea 0 Tottenham 2 were depressingly samey and routine. Stoke City meanwhile - understandably given their crazy schedule - played  a reserve team in their 5-0 shellacking at Chelsea to keep players fresh for a theoretically winnable game against Newcastle.  What's worrying is that the gulf only looks like widening - especially if the Big Six eventually get their way and convince the other teams in the league to accept a merit-based payment system that would see overseas money distributed according to where clubs finish in the table.  Hype has always sustained the Premier League, but never has it felt further from it's self-proclaimed status as the best in the world. 

Premier League Bingo: How many points will you score this weekend?

Chelsea vs Leicester (Saturday, 3pm) 5 points: The commentator on Match of the Day (other highlights shows are available) mentions Eden Hazard winning the title for Leicester in his or her opening line. Something like 'two former champions, with a match winner on either side yadda yadda'. 15 points: Leicester win and the post-match analysis references them playing just like the Leicester that won the title.  25 points: Michy Batshuayi comes on as a substitute in the 75th minute for Alvaro Morata, runs around a bit, affects nothing. Special gold star prize: Antonio Conte remains seated throughout. Crystal Palace vs Burnley (Saturday, 3pm) 5 points: Wilfried Zaha does some absolutely lovely trickery on the wing. Wilf Zaha trialing his soon-to-be trademark skill trick: 'the flail' Credit: REUTERS 15 points: We are treated to the sight of the lesser-spottedGeorges-Kévin N'Koudou (recently signed on loan from Spurs). 25 points: An open, end-to-end, free-flowing football extravaganza finishes 5-4 to the delight of both managers. Huddersfield Town vs West Ham (Saturday, 3pm) 5 points: If you ask one of your (non-Huddersfield supporting) friends to instantly name the Huddersfield right-back right now and they get it right. It's Tommy Smith. 15 points: Adrian and Joe Hart agree to share the goalkeeper position, David Moyes plays with one less outfield player to accommodate it. 25 points: Andy Carroll dribbles from his own box to score a George Weah-like wondergoal and later successfully runs for president of Liberia. Newcastle vs Swansea (Saturday, 3pm) 5 points: A statue of John Beresford is unveiled outside St James' Park before the match. 15 points: Ayoze Perez actually turns up (metaphorically). 25 points: Every single member of the crowd keeps their shirt on throughout. Watford vs Southampton (Saturday, 3pm) Marco Silva will be hoping for a big improvement in Watford's form Credit: GETTY IMAGES 5 points: Marco Silva reveals that in addition to being sponsored by Football Manager, Watford have also done their match preparation and player scouting for this transfer window entirely based on the game too.  15 points: Liverpool make a £60million bid for any Southampton player after the game is done. 25 points: Southampton go goal crazy and hit Watford for eight.  West Brom vs Brighton (Saturday, 3pm) 5 points: Alan Pardew and Chris Hughton wear Newcastle United shirts underneath their actual shirts. 15 points: This game is heralded forever more as the reason the Premier League is so popular. 25 points: Pardew realises management might not be his thing anymore and pulls out several cringeworthy dances so he can sell the gifs to whoever it is that buys and makes gifs. Spurs vs Everton (Saturday, 5:30pm) 5 points: Harry Kane scores five goals. 15 points: Wayne Rooney scores five goals. 25 points: Davy Klaasen scores one goal. Bournemouth vs Arsenal (Sunday 1:30pm) 5 points: Alexis Sanchez spends an extra minute or so applauding the Arsenal fans at the end of the game. 15 points: Theo Walcott spends an extra five minutes applauding the Arsenal fans at the end of the game. 25 points: Nobody shares a photograph on Twitter of Arsene Wenger sat in the crowd.  The genius of Pep Guardiola: Eight things he has done to make Man City so frighteningly good Liverpool vs Man City (Sunday 4pm) 5 points: Pep Guardiola goes four four f***** two. 15 points: Liverpool fans reward Raheem Sterling with a standing ovation. 25 points: Jurgen Klopp, buoyed by a new love of defensive football, lines his team up in a 5-4-1 formation and has them sit deep throughout.

Premier League Bingo: How many points will you score this weekend?

Chelsea vs Leicester (Saturday, 3pm) 5 points: The commentator on Match of the Day (other highlights shows are available) mentions Eden Hazard winning the title for Leicester in his or her opening line. Something like 'two former champions, with a match winner on either side yadda yadda'. 15 points: Leicester win and the post-match analysis references them playing just like the Leicester that won the title.  25 points: Michy Batshuayi comes on as a substitute in the 75th minute for Alvaro Morata, runs around a bit, affects nothing. Special gold star prize: Antonio Conte remains seated throughout. Crystal Palace vs Burnley (Saturday, 3pm) 5 points: Wilfried Zaha does some absolutely lovely trickery on the wing. Wilf Zaha trialing his soon-to-be trademark skill trick: 'the flail' Credit: REUTERS 15 points: We are treated to the sight of the lesser-spottedGeorges-Kévin N'Koudou (recently signed on loan from Spurs). 25 points: An open, end-to-end, free-flowing football extravaganza finishes 5-4 to the delight of both managers. Huddersfield Town vs West Ham (Saturday, 3pm) 5 points: If you ask one of your (non-Huddersfield supporting) friends to instantly name the Huddersfield right-back right now and they get it right. It's Tommy Smith. 15 points: Adrian and Joe Hart agree to share the goalkeeper position, David Moyes plays with one less outfield player to accommodate it. 25 points: Andy Carroll dribbles from his own box to score a George Weah-like wondergoal and later successfully runs for president of Liberia. Newcastle vs Swansea (Saturday, 3pm) 5 points: A statue of John Beresford is unveiled outside St James' Park before the match. 15 points: Ayoze Perez actually turns up (metaphorically). 25 points: Every single member of the crowd keeps their shirt on throughout. Watford vs Southampton (Saturday, 3pm) Marco Silva will be hoping for a big improvement in Watford's form Credit: GETTY IMAGES 5 points: Marco Silva reveals that in addition to being sponsored by Football Manager, Watford have also done their match preparation and player scouting for this transfer window entirely based on the game too.  15 points: Liverpool make a £60million bid for any Southampton player after the game is done. 25 points: Southampton go goal crazy and hit Watford for eight.  West Brom vs Brighton (Saturday, 3pm) 5 points: Alan Pardew and Chris Hughton wear Newcastle United shirts underneath their actual shirts. 15 points: This game is heralded forever more as the reason the Premier League is so popular. 25 points: Pardew realises management might not be his thing anymore and pulls out several cringeworthy dances so he can sell the gifs to whoever it is that buys and makes gifs. Spurs vs Everton (Saturday, 5:30pm) 5 points: Harry Kane scores five goals. 15 points: Wayne Rooney scores five goals. 25 points: Davy Klaasen scores one goal. Bournemouth vs Arsenal (Sunday 1:30pm) 5 points: Alexis Sanchez spends an extra minute or so applauding the Arsenal fans at the end of the game. 15 points: Theo Walcott spends an extra five minutes applauding the Arsenal fans at the end of the game. 25 points: Nobody shares a photograph on Twitter of Arsene Wenger sat in the crowd.  The genius of Pep Guardiola: Eight things he has done to make Man City so frighteningly good Liverpool vs Man City (Sunday 4pm) 5 points: Pep Guardiola goes four four f***** two. 15 points: Liverpool fans reward Raheem Sterling with a standing ovation. 25 points: Jurgen Klopp, buoyed by a new love of defensive football, lines his team up in a 5-4-1 formation and has them sit deep throughout.

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